Ideas. Cities. Social Innovation.

Good read on attitudes towards rich and poor, and the gulf in between, in Winnipeg:

The rich and poor in Winnipeg may not be two entirely separate solitudes, but people at the extremes of the spectrum maintain belief systems so different, they might as well inhabit two different towns. Perhaps this is a little dark for Sunday morning on April Fool’s Day, but the lack of social cohesion in this town seriously depresses me.

On one hand, Winnipeg can be an amazingly warm place where complete strangers are always ready to give your car a boost or push it out of a snowdrift, at least during the winters when we have actual snowdrifts and dead batteries.

On the other, this can be a cold, indifferent and resentful town, where rich and poor alike are mistrusted by the majority of us who make up the fuzzily defined middle class — or believe we inhabit this economic middle ground.

Congressman Bobby Rush was removed from the House for wearing a hood while speaking about Trayvon Martin and quoting from the Bible. Courageous move from the Representative. Reminds you that politics can be a force for good.

There is considerable buzz in the United States about whether a new “pay for success” model of financing social solutions currently being piloted across the Atlantic could work on American soil. It’s called a social impact bond (SIB), and the first—in fact, the only so far—was launched in September 2010 by an organization called Social Finance UK. SIBs are structured to get proven solutions to scale with no risk to public budgets—governments pay for the solutions only if they work. But despite this risk shifting, a SIB’s structure involves several actors—each charging a fee or return. As a result, this tool is a more expensive way to scale programs than if government simply contracted directly with a service provider. These additional costs will be worth it in many cases, but SIBs won’t be suited to every situation.

The company behind the controversial program at SXSW talks about what’s next:

Where we go from here is directly tied to how we wrestle with some complicated issues that any street newspaper attempting to deploy change will have to answer for themselves – issues we’ve come to sharply appreciate amidst all the debate. Our aim is to partner closely with these groups to utilize the lessons and best practices learned from this experience. Based on conversations to date, our shared goal is a sustainable model that continues to bring homeless people entrepreneurial opportunities that challenge stereotypes, derive purpose and create meaningful interactions with society.

My latest, on the problems progressives face in Canadian federal politics:

I believe it’s a lack of a clear progressive agenda that in large part holds back a potential movement. Anecdotally, I see many of the progressive-minded people I know channeling their efforts into international issues, or politics on a local level. It’s not that they view the federal government as irrelevant, rather I believe there’s nothing engaging them in a meaningful way. They may show up to vote for the NDP (or Liberals or Greens), and in some cases may volunteer time and money, but are not engaged in the same way they are on the aforementioned issues. You can’t build a movement on irregular participation.

Until such time that a progressive agenda can be articulated, and attract a minimum winning coalition, progressives will find themselves in the position conservatives did for much of the 20th century, forming government only when one or both of the following happened – they found a charismatic, popular leader, and/or the dominant party lost support due to poor performance/scandal/voter fatigue, effectively forming government by default. History points to neither strategy being sustainable.

Well said:

As a Canadian, I am passionate about our country’s role in philanthropic efforts. But the unfortunate truth is that sustaining philanthropic efforts is very challenging, especially during economic downturns. While it’s part of daily life for Canadians to give to charitable organizations, it’s the easiest thing to cut back on when the economy turns bad. And during such difficult economic times, governments are also forced to cut back, and charities are then left ill-prepared to sustain themselves.

Today, government and humanitarian organizations, and entrepreneurs are trying to change the dependency charities have on personal donations and the government. Now, we are seeing the popularization of a newer model — the social enterprise. It is in this new model that other challenges Canada is currently facing may find some resolution.

I weigh in on the hot topic:

There is that danger, that the company behind it will use this project as a prop. I suspect some of their motivation is self-promotional, but it may provide value regardless of their intention. The way to end homelessness is to provide housing and appropriate supports. This, of course, takes time; owing to this, and limited resources, it won’t happen for everyone overnight, which is why most communities employ a ten year plan approach to ending homelessness.

In the interim, initiatives like this can empower homeless individuals, allowing them to tell their story, hone skills that may help them in other areas, and raise some funds in the short term. They’re not the solution by any means, but they’re also not road blocks, and can add value when done right.

History shows us that poor people’s silence will be met with government inaction. As American academics Frances Fox Piven and Richard Cloward put it in their classic book Regulating the Poor, “A placid poor get nothing, but a turbulent poor sometimes get something.” The Drummond report tells poor people they must wait. Now it is up to the poor to reply: “We will not.”

Food stamp rolls exploded during the downturn, which began in late 2007. Even after the recession came to its official end in June 2009, families continued to tap into food assistance as unemployment remained high and those lucky enough to find jobs were often met with lower wages.